Next November more than 5 million Americans will not be allowed to vote because of a criminal conviction in their past. Nearly 4 million of these people are not in prison, yet they remain disenfranchised for years, often for decades and sometimes for life.
States vary widely on when they restore voting rights after a conviction. Maine and Vermont do not disenfranchise people with convictions; even prisoners may vote there. People with felony convictions in Florida, Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia are disenfranchised for life, unless they are granted clemency by the governor. The rest of the country falls somewhere in between.
These laws trace their roots through the troubled history of American race relations. In the late 1800s criminal disenfranchisement laws spread as part of a larger backlash against the adoption of the Reconstruction Amendments – the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments – that ended slavery, granted equal citizenship to freed slaves and prohibited racial discrimination in voting. Criminal disenfranchisement laws followed in their wake. They were employed right alongside poll taxes and literacy tests as part of an organized effort to design supposedly race neutral laws that were in fact intentional barriers to African-American voting. According to historian Alexander Keyssar’s “The Right to Vote: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, between 1865 and 1900,” 27 states enacted laws restricting the voting rights of people with criminal convictions.
Full Article: Who Gets to Vote? – NYTimes.com.